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Lerøy was born from one fisherman’s gruelling exertions

Lerøy is one of the world’s biggest seafood companies, and it sells Norwegian seafood all over the world. That would have been hard for the 20-year-old Ole Mikkel Lerøen to imagine when he used to tow live fish in containers on the long, arduous sea route from Lerøy to the fish market in Bergen at the end of the 19th Century.

It is impossible to say what the weather was like the first time Ole Mikkel rowed past Lerøy on his way home from fishing at Glesvær on the seaward side of Sotra, in what is now Øygarden.

But we can be sure that the young fisherman-farmer had a clear goal in mind as he sat is his “oselvar” towing the live fish the twelve nautical miles north to Bergen: he was heading into Vågen, the bay in the heart of Bergen, to sell fish to the ladies and maidservants of the town.

It is also hard to say whether the first journey took eight or twelve hours, or somewhere in between. But we do know that the young country boy’s customers must have been happy with the products they got in around 1899. Because consumers were discriminating, just as they are now. If they received substandard products, they did not come back.

The innermost part of Vågen in Bergen looked like this around the turn of the 20th century
VÅGEN: The innermost part of Vågen in Bergen looked like this around the turn of the 20th century. In the centre of the picture is the Triangle, a wooden quay with a tank for live fish, which remained there until the early 1900s. On the right is Zachariasbryggen quay, and on the left some warehouses situated close to the modern-day Strandkaien. In the far distance on the left, Nykirken church is just about visible, and on the right the Rosentkrantz tower rears up above the masts. Photo credit: Olaf Andreas Svanøe / University Museum of Bergen.

In the case of Ole Mikkel Lerøen (1879-1966), they kept coming back, time and again. Because this budding entrepreneur knew that the only way to get ahead was to deliver the best products.

The world has been transformed in 125 years, but a few things have never changed: our most important job is still delivering top-quality seafood to consumers.

From oars to motors

One thing we have stopped doing, on the other hand, is rowing for up to twelve hours to get the fish to our customers, and then up to twelve hours back home again. Ole Mikkel did that for a decade until 1912, when he heard about two brothers from Askøy who had a motor boat.
Things really picked up speed, quite literally, when they went into partnership, cutting the journey time into town to one and a half hours.

Ole Mikkel Lerøen  used to tow “corves” like this behind his rowing boat
DORF: For over ten years, Ole Mikkel Lerøen used to tow “corves” like this behind his rowing boat when he went to sell fish in Bergen. The corves were partially submerged in the water, so the fish could be transported live to the fish market. Photo credit: Hans Emil Lidén, University Museum of Bergen.

In due course both Ole Mikkel and the business grew up, and in 1927 the partnership become a limited company. At that point Ole Mikkel stepped back from running the company, but he did not stop working.

Like father, like son

The blood of the Lerøy family runs deep through the company. In 1919, when he was just eleven, Ole Mikkel’s third son went with his father to the fish market in Bergen to sell fish.
Like his father, Hallvard Lerøy senior (1908-1998) found his sea legs at an early age. And like his father, he had the drive, knowledge and desire needed to build and create something. In 1939 he and his friend Elias Fjeldstad founded their own company, Hallvard Lerøy A/S, which worked closely with Lerøy og Strudshavn A/S, owned by his father and the latter’s partners. In the 1980s, Hallvard Lerøy A/S acquired the whole of Lerøy og Strudshavn, bringing together the core businesses of the modern Lerøy Seafood Group.

Elias Fjeldstad  fish market in Bergen
SALESMAN: Elias Fjeldstad (middle) was a born salesman, always in a good mood and bursting with creativity. Here he is pictured at the fish market in Bergen at some point during the Interwar period.

Hallvard and Elias exported almost everything edible that could be harvested from the sea, but like so many others in the post-war period, herring was the growth engine of their business. Thanks to creativity, knowledge and hard work, the duo were able to take a growing slice of the herring market.

: Elias Fjeldstad  and Hallvard Lerøy senior
PIONEERS: Elias Fjeldstad (left) and Hallvard Lerøy senior built up the company that would eventually become the modern Lerøy Seafood Group. Here they are photographed at the offices of Hallvard Lerøy A/S at Bontelabo in 1964. Note how the fisherman Elias’ appropriately combines waterproof boots with a suit.

First to use air freight

Lerøy has always been a pioneer of Norwegian fish exports. As far back as 1931, Lerøy og Strudshavn A/S sent a railway carriage of porbeagle, herring and lobster to Rome.
Hallvard Lerøy A/S was the first Norwegian company to fly fish abroad. In the early 1970s, fish was flown to Milan and Paris, and by the end of the decade it was being flow across the Atlantic to New York. Today, Lerøy’s products are sold in most parts of the world.

Fair freight shipment of salmon to Japan
FLYING FISH: In 1995, Hallvard Lerøy A/S sent its first air freight shipment of salmon to Japan, home of sushi.

The Lerøy Seafood Group is no longer a family business, after the fourth generation fisherman in the Lerøy family, Ole-Eirik, sold off his shares in what was already a listed company in 2008.

It has been a long journey from young Ole Mikkel breaking his back to tow live fish for hours on end to today’s high-tech, modern and global business. But the same vein of quality consciousness and creativity that has led our Norwegian seafood to more and more dinner tables across the world still permeates everything we do.

AT BONTELABO: In 1953, Hallvard Lerøy A/S moved from the fish market to Bontelabo, where they and the other tenants could freeze, pack, store and process their fish.

Where we come from

The Lerøy Seafood Group is the fruit of a long tradition of adventurous and outward-looking fishers, and it has often been at the helm when Norwegian seafood has taken the next step upwards, forward and outwards. We will never forget where we come from, and whom we have to thank for our success: Ole Mikkel, Hallvard Sr. and Elias Fjeldstad had exceptional vision, willpower, pioneering spirit and knowledge, but they also had their feet firmly planted in the rich heritage of Norway’s coastal fishing communities.

Their knowledge came from generations of seafarers, their work ethic from long hours handling fishing nets and oars, and their values and outlook from the small boats and farms in places like Lerøy, twelve nautical miles south of Bergen.
We have always been deeply rooted in local communities: at Lerøy, in Bergen and at all of the small and large settlements along the coast where Norwegian aquaculture, fishing and fish processing continue to provide jobs and a way of life. And we will hold on to those local ties – for as long as we remain in business.

Generations of knowledge, quality consciousness and innovation – that is what Lerøy is all about.

Lerøy 125 år

125 years of seafood from Lerøy. For future generations.

Note: The photos of the fish market and corf come from the University Museum of Bergen’s image library.